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Little House series reading group (Laura Ingalls Wilder)


Shelby
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Hi -- This is my first post on eGullet, though I've been lurking for years and years.

Shelby, your fabulous blog helped to pull me out of lurkdom, so thank you! I loved it all so much, and was frustrated that I couldn't comment (not that I haven't been frustrated before, but I was *extra* frustrated this time!) Especially since I am considering buying farmland and would love to pick your brain ;)

And I would even more love to participate in this discussion. I truly believe that the books I loved as a child led me to my love of cooking, and the Laura Ingalls Wilder books were a huge part of this. I haven't looked back at the books yet, but the town/country parties in Plum Creek (I think) come to mind right away! Ma's crispy little cakes! Lovely. Oh! Oh! And I just had a conversation with my sister a few weeks ago about how I read and reread ad nauseum the description of the perfect kitchen and pantry Almanzo built for Laura in (I think) The First Four Years. Anyway, the short book where they move into that fantastic kitchen [house] and then everything goes to hell like it always does in Ingalls-Wilder territory.

I think heidih is so right -- the joy of literary food, simple or fancy, is all in the description. How lovingly, gorgeously, lusciously is the food described? So... also Lord of the Rings, just in bits, but those bits are major for me -- the bacon and mushrooms in the first volume. I can't read that without violently craving bacon and mushrooms.

Little Women and other Louisa May Alcott books also have some great food descriptions tied so wonderfully closely to character (like the Little House books). Just to start, the description in the very beginning of Little Women of the Christmas brunch the girls give away, all dripping with butter, etc. Jo and her crisp apples... the blancmange Jo takes to Laurie. Or the so dramatic incident of Amy's pickled limes! And, much later, Amy's attempt to be "fancy," and her finally wise decision to be simple as Marmee suggests.

I could go on forever, but instead I will look into my set of Little House books and plan to cook something from them to show here!

Oh Beatrice, thank you so much for reading my blog. You've made my day by your kind words.

I'm no expert, but I'd be happy to let you pick what little brain I have left lol.

Remember in the second book titled "Little House On The Prairie" when they moved west? I'm to the part where they all get "fever 'n' ague". Today we know that they had malaria, but then, all of the settlers were convinced that they got sick from eating watermelons grown near the river. Pa craves some good melon so he goes and gets one...barely able to carry it because he's been so sick. Ma chastises him, but he eats his fill anyway. Every time I read that part I want a big piece of juicy watermelon with salt sprinkled on top.

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Hi,

I seemed to overlook this topic. Glad to find it. That Laura girl sure got around! We have at least four of her places within a hundred miles of our farm.

Interesting idea on the cider vinegar. We’ve got the last of the seasons apples to process and already have too many pies in the freezer. I may do a five gallon batch in a carboy.

Shelby, we are in a corn/soy area and grow a fair amount of edamame. We’ve settled on: Beer Friend, Sayamusame and

Misono. If you want some help let me know.

Oh how neat! Have you been to any of them? Are they historically preserved, or are they just still standing or do people live in them?

I'd love if did a batch of cider vinegar! Years ago we attempted to make our own wine. Huge fail. The vinegar process sounds similar, but easier. Maybe you could take pictures and document it here? If homemade is better than commercial bought, I'd be willing to take a stab at it myself.

Nice to meet a fellow soybeaner :biggrin:

I'm going to look up your varieties.

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We go by Burr Oak all the time but we are either in a rush or they are closed for the season. As I understand, it is the only standing structure that she lived in as a child. It was a hotel. We are going to make it a point to visit when they re-open in the spring.

The boss says the cider vinegar will be easier using some of our cider wine as starter. She is in charge of the brewing yeasts. I have my own stash of wild bread starters.

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I want to get in on this soon. I'm finishing up a Nero Wolfe book right now (talk about food fiction - fantastic food in those books - and WAY ahead of his time), but will probably start rereading the Little House books in order tomorrow or the next day.

Here's my set:

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I am completely on board for the LMM books, too. Anne with an E was my favorite girl ever. I reread them every few years.

I love the gingham pattern on your books!

I'm on the second book now...I swear I could just veg out and read for days....

On a completely un-food side question...am I the only one that ever wonders when Ma and Pa get some "alone" time?

I wonder about that whenever I read anything where the characters live in such close quarters. I guess people just got over any privacy scruples that they had. This boggles me - seeing as how just having the cat in the room can make me feel embarrassed! :laugh:

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I wonder about that whenever I read anything where the characters live in such close quarters. I guess people just got over any privacy scruples that they had. This boggles me - seeing as how just having the cat in the room can make me feel embarrassed! :laugh:

It sure put a damper on the trapeze, jungle gym and swinging cages. Honestly, we live in a 115yo German home where we know a few of the kids who grew up here before indoor plumbing. He lived in our current guest bedroom. If he put a glass of water on the window sill it would be ice by morning. His wife remembers the warmest time of the winter being the morning cow milking. She could cuddle up to the cow and warm herself.

The local Norwegians had much smaller houses that were easier to heat. During the spring summer and fall some of the kids slept in the barn or outside.

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Little House in the Big Woods

I was intrigued by the treatment of corn to make one of Laura's favorites called "hulled corn and milk". After Pa "shelled the corn", "Early next day Ma put the shelled corn and the bag of ashes into the big iron kettle" The ashes were from some clean bright hardwood ashes she had been saving. The corn was boiled for a long time and "swelled and swelled until their skins split open and began to peel off". Ma repeatedly washed the corn to remove the hulls. Sounds like hominy or nixtamal to me which I associate with the southwest and Mexico. (this started on page 218 in my new softcover)

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Little House in the Big Woods

I was intrigued by the treatment of corn to make one of Laura's favorites called "hulled corn and milk". After Pa "shelled the corn", "Early next day Ma put the shelled corn and the bag of ashes into the big iron kettle" The ashes were from some clean bright hardwood ashes she had been saving. The corn was boiled for a long time and "swelled and swelled until their skins split open and began to peel off". Ma repeatedly washed the corn to remove the hulls. Sounds like hominy or nixtamal to me which I associate with the southwest and Mexico. (this started on page 218 in my new softcover)

I've always thought it was hominy. Somehow the ash was used...kind of like how it was used to make soap??? I don't know details. Lye?? I need to look in the cookbook. Give me a bit as I'm making dinner and I'll look to see if it's in there.

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Jo's blancmange and Amy's pickled lemons always piqued my interest.

My kid has a "Little House" cookbook and we've made all kinds of things out of it. Popcorn in milk is a weirdness I cannot wrap my head around. Maple candy, yes.

Not yet mentioned, Raold Dahl's Totally Revolting Recipes, which is made up of stuff mentioned in his books; James and the Giant Peach, The Big Friendly Giant, The Fantastic Mr. Fox, Mathilda, etc. We made the Trunchbull's Chocolate Cake for Kid #2's birthday in November and we also make 'Stinkbug Eggs' pretty often.

“Don't kid yourself, Jimmy. If a cow ever got the chance, he'd eat you and everyone you care about!”
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Between these 2 threads and my friend texting me Long Winter trivia questions everytime it snows (we're in NJ it's snowing alot) I have been laughing to myself all morning. We are going on a little roadtrip today and it feels like one of Pa's trips to the homestaed for hay between storms.

I guess it helps the theme that we are heading out to Amish country in PA for a buffet lunch LOL maybe they will have green pumpkin pie.

tracey

The great thing about barbeque is that when you get hungry 3 hours later....you can lick your fingers

Maxine

Avoid cutting yourself while slicing vegetables by getting someone else to hold them while you chop away.

"It is the government's fault, they've eaten everything."

My Webpage

garden state motorcyle association

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Little House in the Big Woods

I was intrigued by the treatment of corn to make one of Laura's favorites called "hulled corn and milk". After Pa "shelled the corn", "Early next day Ma put the shelled corn and the bag of ashes into the big iron kettle" The ashes were from some clean bright hardwood ashes she had been saving. The corn was boiled for a long time and "swelled and swelled until their skins split open and began to peel off". Ma repeatedly washed the corn to remove the hulls. Sounds like hominy or nixtamal to me which I associate with the southwest and Mexico. (this started on page 218 in my new softcover)

Wow. That really does sound like nixtamalization. I wonder when "european" Americans found out about nixtamalization? Given that pellagra (a deficiency of niacin (vitamin B3)) was a problem in the US south through the 1910s, maybe most never did.

Nixtamalization is steeping corn with an alkali solution (in this case from the wood ashes, but could also be "lime"). The overt effect is to cause the hulls of the corn to come off, which was clearly Ma's main aim here. But the critical side effect is that the processing causes niacin (B3) to become nutritionally available. OK - some Wikipedia research tells me the following: In terms of producing large quantities of calories, corn is an amazing crop. But for poor people, who don't have access to a well rounded diet, eating basically nothing but non-nixtamalized corn results in a deficiency of niacin, and that in turn has really tragic, and sometimes fatal, health effects (pellagra). Once this problem was understood, like scurvy, it's easy to intentionally eat specific foods to get enough of the crucial nutrient, so it has been essentially eliminated in the developed world. I wonder how wide spread this technique of boiling corn with ashes was in different parts of the US? It clearly wasn't common in impoverished southern communities, or pellagra wouldn't have been present.

Too bad for Luara - they were sooooo close to having masa! The could have made tortillas for venison tacos, or made grilled (or pickled) wild onions and topped stewed pork with them on some fried sopes, or, while they're at it, tamales! Oh, poor Laura, if only there had been Mexican neighbors out there on the praire to show them how to make all this great stuff!

I don't have the books available to me, so I'll be following everyone's discussion. My mom read them to me as bedtime stories, then repeated that with my younger sister. The books might be around my parents' place somewhere, but I'd be surprised if they weren't given to neighbors or donated to some school or other.

I suspect, though, that I have a less romantic view of Laura's life. The comment above about how vinegar was a normal table condiment made me think, "why?" I suspect that much of what they ate wasn't what we would call "fresh" today. Vinegar can go a long way to mask those issues.

Also, as an architect, I've learned a lot about not just "classical monuments" but also ordinary homes around the world and through history. Looking at all the teepees, igloos, longhouses, and such around the world, I'm pretty sure that in one room cabins, sod huts and such, kids were/are unavoidably exposed to their parents becoming "the beast with two backs" pretty regularly. (shudder...)

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This is all from memory, since I don't have my set of Little House books anymore, but they were my favorites in elementary school and I've even made the pilgrimage to De Smet, SD twice to visit all the historical sites there.

I had a major obsession with The Long Winter. I was really intrigued by survival-mode little house. I remember the green-pumpkin pie Ma makes in the beginning when they're just hinting at how small the harvest was that year and how they'll have to rely on Pa's hunting skills to make it through the winter. Before the end of the blizzards they're down to a single loaf of brown bread daily. Definitely nothing romantic about nearly starving to death on the prairie.

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Does anyone remember if the last "meal" before just the brown bread was the salt cod gravy or the 5 potatoes?

tracey

and extra points for anyone who continued onto the next series of books...where did the foreign lady carry the biscits?

The great thing about barbeque is that when you get hungry 3 hours later....you can lick your fingers

Maxine

Avoid cutting yourself while slicing vegetables by getting someone else to hold them while you chop away.

"It is the government's fault, they've eaten everything."

My Webpage

garden state motorcyle association

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I suspect, though, that I have a less romantic view of Laura's life. The comment above about how vinegar was a normal table condiment made me think, "why?" I suspect that much of what they ate wasn't what we would call "fresh" today. Vinegar can go a long way to mask those issues.

I just saw an interesting use of vinegar. In the 6th book "The Long Winter" Laura gets this surprise when she is quite thirsty working the hay with Pa: "Ma had sent them ginger water. She had sweetened the cool well water with sugar, flavored it with vinegar, and put in plenty of ginger". The stated reason was that the ginger would warm their stomachs and they could drink as much water as they liked without a tummy ache.

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Moving into the second book of the series "Farmer Boy" there is a lovely scene about a meal served when the schoolteacher came to stay starting at page 25 in my recent softcover. It included slabs of tempting cheeses and quivering headcheeses. What spoke to me a few pages later was the description starting on page 31 of a happy family evening that combined popcorn, sweet cider and apples. Again I am intrigued with the corn uses.

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Just finished Little House in the Big Woods. Over and over, as I was reading, I got a feeling of slight shame. A realization of how easy my culinary life really is. And how, when it is difficult, it is because I choose to make something new or complicated. The first part of the book seems to be all about food – finding it, prepping it, preserving it, and enjoying it. I am food obsessed and so are the Ingalls, but in completely different ways. I would eat just fine without my obsession. Without theirs the family would starve.

As I read the part about maple sugaring, I was again slightly shamed. I feel superior when I bake a cake from scratch rather than using a mix. These folks not only make their own maple syrup and sugar, but have to fashion all of the implements (buckets, etc.) for collecting!

The cooking that Ma does is really subsistence level cooking. They eat almost entirely what they can grow, hunt, glean and make themselves. Almost nothing is store bought. And yet, there is an appreciation of beauty and specialness in the preparation. There are special molds to make the butter pretty. And for Christmas morning breakfast, she makes pancake men for each of the children. None of these things are necessary – there really isn’t time in Ma’s busy life for anything but practical hard work. And still she takes the time. Part of this is explained by the fact that Ma is not really a pioneer woman – she comes from back East and was raised in affluence compared to how they lived in this book. But, time and time again, I’ve come across that yearning for a little bit of beauty in an otherwise mundane existence that country women every where and every time seem to have.

On a completely different and much less philosophical note: Towards the end of the book Laura, Mary and Ma go out collecting nuts. She mentions walnuts, hazelnuts and hickory nuts. I wonder why hickory nuts are so uncommon now? I know that they are available online, but I don’t think that I’ve ever seen them or even tasted one.

And just like everyone, these books make me HUNGRY! I want to taste molasses candy and maple syrup candy and Ma’s hoop cheese. For some reason, the item that always gets me is the pan of beans. I can smell those beans, slow baked and rich with molasses, as I always imagine them.

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Just finished Little House in the Big Woods. Over and over, as I was reading, I got a feeling of slight shame. A realization of how easy my culinary life really is. And how, when it is difficult, it is because I choose to make something new or complicated. The first part of the book seems to be all about food – finding it, prepping it, preserving it, and enjoying it. I am food obsessed and so are the Ingalls, but in completely different ways. I would eat just fine without my obsession. Without theirs the family would starve.

As I read the part about maple sugaring, I was again slightly shamed. I feel superior when I bake a cake from scratch rather than using a mix. These folks not only make their own maple syrup and sugar, but have to fashion all of the implements (buckets, etc.) for collecting!

The cooking that Ma does is really subsistence level cooking. They eat almost entirely what they can grow, hunt, glean and make themselves. Almost nothing is store bought. And yet, there is an appreciation of beauty and specialness in the preparation. There are special molds to make the butter pretty. And for Christmas morning breakfast, she makes pancake men for each of the children. None of these things are necessary – there really isn’t time in Ma’s busy life for anything but practical hard work. And still she takes the time. Part of this is explained by the fact that Ma is not really a pioneer woman – she comes from back East and was raised in affluence compared to how they lived in this book. But, time and time again, I’ve come across that yearning for a little bit of beauty in an otherwise mundane existence that country women every where and every time seem to have.

On a completely different and much less philosophical note: Towards the end of the book Laura, Mary and Ma go out collecting nuts. She mentions walnuts, hazelnuts and hickory nuts. I wonder why hickory nuts are so uncommon now? I know that they are available online, but I don’t think that I’ve ever seen them or even tasted one.

And just like everyone, these books make me HUNGRY! I want to taste molasses candy and maple syrup candy and Ma’s hoop cheese. For some reason, the item that always gets me is the pan of beans. I can smell those beans, slow baked and rich with molasses, as I always imagine them.

Kim, you are a really great writer. You describe everything so perfectly it's like I'm reading the book, only I'm not!

Great catch on the hickory nuts. I'd love to see and taste them.

Like I said in an earlier post, it really makes you realize that you can do all of the preserving and cooking that you want to --without the "fancy" cookware/preserve-ware that we all think that we "need".

I got busy these last couple of days--we're supposed to get a huge ice/snow storm, so I've been doing all of the laundry and cleaning etc. because we tend to lose power easily. The last big storm we were without power for 12 days sigh. But, if that happens, it gives me plenty of time to read and it sure makes me feel like a pioneer.

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On a completely different and much less philosophical note: Towards the end of the book Laura, Mary and Ma go out collecting nuts. She mentions walnuts, hazelnuts and hickory nuts. I wonder why hickory nuts are so uncommon now? I know that they are available online, but I don’t think that I’ve ever seen them or even tasted one.

Hickory nuts are in the walnut family, so are the more popular and "better tasting" pecans. I've known several people with walnut acreage and very few make any money at it. Where we used to live they'd let us pick the nuts any time we wanted because they made zero money on them. It's like many crops, you need to have a huge investment to make it.

Hickory lumber is valuable like walnut but I suspect hickory nuts can't be harvested profitably in the US.

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Shelby, I feel your pain about the power outages. We lost our power for twelve days, as well. Thank goodness for the genrator and the kerosine lamps, eh? I have new found respect for pioneer women after living for ten years in Oklahoma weather.

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Little House in the Big Woods

I was intrigued by the treatment of corn to make one of Laura's favorites called "hulled corn and milk". After Pa "shelled the corn", "Early next day Ma put the shelled corn and the bag of ashes into the big iron kettle" The ashes were from some clean bright hardwood ashes she had been saving. The corn was boiled for a long time and "swelled and swelled until their skins split open and began to peel off". Ma repeatedly washed the corn to remove the hulls. Sounds like hominy or nixtamal to me which I associate with the southwest and Mexico. (this started on page 218 in my new softcover)

I haven't read these books in over 20 years, but I could have sworn in the edition I read the word hominy was used. Or maybe I've just done some convoluting in my head over time :laugh:

My mother made molasses or maple snow taffy a few times every winter (having grown up in rural Quebec) and I was always thrilled that I was doing something just like Laura did. Plus it was delicious! She used to sew my dresses in floral calico (no, really) and I remember getting her to make a pocket on one of them like Laura had when she collected rocks on the lake shoreline (how can I remember that after so many years?). I suspect it was out of relief that I had moved on from my Heidi phase (= braided hair, toasted cheese and hard bread obsession).

Although we raised our own pigs for a few years I was never given the bladder to play with :sad:

I had the full set of these books and have no idea what happened to them. Of course, now I simply HAVE to get another set, plus the cookbook.

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We had some discussion up topic about the use of vinegar and also a few people mentioned something about green pumpkin pie. Well.....In "The Long Winter" (book 6 of the series at p.32 in the new softcover) the description came up. They were really struggling with the food supply. So in a forward thinking way Ma said when questioned about the concept of using a green pumpkin out of the field: "But we wouldn't do much if we didn't do things that nobody ever heard of before". They sliced and peeled the green pumpkin and started with a pie crust dough in the pie pan. She covered the bottom with brown sugar and spices (good start!) and then filled it with thin slices of the pumpkin. That was followed by a half cup of vinegar !!!!), a knob of butter and the top crust. Laura with wide eyes said "I did not know you could" in reference to the entire concept. Pa was quite pleased and surprised and thought it was apple pie.

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Little House in the Big Woods

I was intrigued by the treatment of corn to make one of Laura's favorites called "hulled corn and milk". After Pa "shelled the corn", "Early next day Ma put the shelled corn and the bag of ashes into the big iron kettle" The ashes were from some clean bright hardwood ashes she had been saving. The corn was boiled for a long time and "swelled and swelled until their skins split open and began to peel off". Ma repeatedly washed the corn to remove the hulls. Sounds like hominy or nixtamal to me which I associate with the southwest and Mexico. (this started on page 218 in my new softcover)

Ok, so in the cookbook it's listed as hominy, but, unless I missed it, the book calls it hulled corn.

My cookbook says we could use baking soda in place of the lye, so, I'm definitely doing this starting in late June when our field corn starts getting big enough.

I'm excited!

Oh, and my husband, then wants to make homemade corn nuts......I guess that's a whole 'nother topic lol.

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